Facing the students on Facebook: Are you game for it?

“Facebook? Well, I have an account but did not use it in the recent past”. This is how many of my colleagues responded to my question on how often they used Facebook. I would have given an exactly similar answer a couple of years ago. But not anymore. I now use this social platform quite often as an instructional tool. Facebook has changed the way I connect with my students. Join me as I briefly explore the use of Facebook as a long-time connecting bridge between me and my students. The use of Facebook in higher education could be endlessly fascinating.

The pedagogical approaches that we are so familiar with all these decades have undergone a rapid change during the last few years with students demanding more informal and flexible interaction to enhance their learning experiences [1]. The use of social media is increasingly being studied to understand its potential to influence the way students and teachers interact, collaborate and share information and resources. When students with shared interests are brought together, mediated through their Professor, it can lead to either planned or spontaneous learning opportunities [2,3].

A social network, such as Facebook, is defined as “a set of people or groups of people with some pattern of contacts or interactions between them” [4]. When Facebook was started in February 2004, it was for the sole use of Harvard University students as a social networking site until it was opened to the general public in 2006. Although there are other social networking sites such as MySpace, Friendster and diaspora*, Facebook is by far the most famous social site with more than a billion users per month and nearly 90 % of its users being students [5].

The primary reasons why people, particularly the youngsters, are attracted to Facebook are: (a) the need to belong and (b) the need for self-presentation [6]. In a learning environment, both these are important factors to improve the bonding not only among the students but also with the teacher.  I have often seen that in a heterogeneous class, if students know each other, the class environment is more positive leading to a better learning experience. There are two ways in which I could communicate with my students on Facebook – either accept them as “friends” or create a “group” and invite them to join as members. But youngsters, in general, would prefer to be a “friend” only to their peers and definitely not to their professors.  Therefore, I decided to create a group for each course I teach.

The first time I started using Facebook was when I was teaching “EEL204 Analog Electronics” to the second year UG students with a class strength of about 140 students. When I announced in the class about the creation of “2013EEL204” Facebook group and requested them to join the group, the students were taken aback.  Initially only my six teaching assistants and a quarter of the class signed up. The entire class did not sign up perhaps due to a general feeling that Facebook is meant only for wasting time and not suited for any serious academic activities. But as I started informing the class about what I have posted to the group, within a few days of the semester beginning, the entire class signed up.

Students may find multitude ways of using Facebook as a useful tool in their education which we as teachers would most likely not conceive. I had clear goals for creating a Facebook group for my course such as:

  • Answering questions posed by the students
  • Raising questions on topics that I covered in the class
  • Posting links to sources to supplement student’s reading material
  • Posting tutorials and their keys
  • Providing a common forum for students to interact with each other
  • Sending private messages to individual students if they required an advice and
  • Inviting students to my home for a cup of tea at a short notice !

One of the reasons why Facebook works for me and my students is that we do not have to bother about creating another account with a new userid and password. We simply use our existing Facebook accounts to get into the Facebook group created for the course. If I had used some other Learning Management System (LMS) to create a forum or used a blog for my course, I would not have had the same success in motivating the students to use this facility because, unlike the Facebook, it can be very exasperating to log into multiple accounts. In Facebook, one can become a member of any number of groups with one single account. If a student is taking five courses in a semester, and if each instructor creates a Facebook group, joining in any of these groups will be seamless.

Professors tend to use traditional means of e-communication such as email to communicate with the students. However, students rarely check these emails. On the other hand, outside class hours, whenever I posted a message on my Facebook group, within minutes, a large part of the class had seen the message and started responding through likes and replies. Since Facebook is freely and easily available on mobile phones without any constraints, the use of Facebook for instructional purposes requires neither extra effort nor cost [7].

On Facebook, students can not only pose questions to the professor but also reach out to each other creating an open and less formal information flow compared to what we see in a controlled class room environment. Students often express their agreement with what you have posted by clicking on “Like”. This is a non-verbal and least effort expression. However, it provides clues to the teacher about how the students are reacting to your postings.  Another way of making the students feel about the involvement of the professor in their learning process is to “like” a comment posted by the student on the course group or bring some of the Facebook group discussions into the class room. This can be very re-assuring to the students while interacting with the professor [8].

I often thought to be able to spend time with my students to know more about them. But Facebook provided me an alternate mechanism to know about them better at my own leisure. Every Facebook user has a profile which contains photos, videos and personal details. I often go through the profiles of my students to understand more about their interests and personality. I can access only a part or complete profile of the student depending on the security settings. Some students may look like recluses in the class room but outside they are really gregarious and I would not have known about it but for their Facebook profiles. Knowing more about the personality of the students does help in fostering a better bonding in the class room.

Social networks such as Facebook “blur the distinction between learning spaces, social spaces and leisure spaces” [9]. This also means that the traditional hierarchical structure that exists in higher educational institutes may dissolve slowly. Reconfiguring this relationship between professors and students may lead to unexpected outcomes [9].

A Facebook group is not a lawless and crazy place where anyone can post anything. The users in a course group will always tend to behave responsibly since they also interact offline with their professor in a class room. With the professor as the moderator of the group, an organizational behaviour develops and any non-welcome behaviour on a Facebook group can easily be controlled. Since no group member of the class can post anonymously and the postings will become available to the group only after the administrator (either a teaching assistant or the professor) approves the posting, students will seldom post anything that can be called objectionable.

Contrary to the common belief that students use Facebook only for socializing online, there are in-depth studies indicating the use of Facebook for learning purposes [10]. A significant body of research indicates that there is a correlation between student’s performance in a course and their active participation in the corresponding Facebook group [11-14]. Students in general are very positive about using Facebook as a collaborative tool. Take a look at the typical students’ feedback [15]:

  • “I like using Facebook ………it gives me the chance to interact with my classmates and the teachers outside of classroom. Since I already use Facebook on the daily basis so it’s nice for me to just browse on Facebook and then visit the group to see what others are up to.”
  • “Facebook provides a good tool that integrates existing web technology such as Discussion board, chat, blog and YouTube. The tool provides more of the ‘community-based’ feeling where I feel comfortable sharing knowledge with the people I network with from my class.”
  • “I like the ability to ask questions on the Facebook Wall where I can get answers from both my classmates and our instructors.”

Facebook is different for different people. While some people probably think it as a harmful obsession, for others, it could surely be an enduring and useful medium.  Instead of feeling threatened by the widespread use of social media by the students, we should look at it without the prism of prejudice that surrounds this activity among the non-users. If students do not feel motivated enough to use Facebook as a learning tool, it is primarily because of the lack of interest from professors to adapt to the role of an active participant by creating their online presence to support the students’ learning activities  [16].

Many professors are indifferent to use Facebook because either they are unfamiliar with its use or think that youngsters are simply wasting their time by being a Facebook user. Some professors, who do not share my enthusiasm to use Facebook, may even be angry at me for suggesting to consider the student as an interactive partner in the teaching strategy using Facebook as a medium. But hold on. Facebook is just a tool.  The benefits that can be derived from its use solely depend on how we adopt it as a useful tool.  We can no longer defend our conservative approach to adapt to new technological affordances by dubbing social networks such as Facebook as an avoidable distraction.

We often get to hear – “I am a busy researcher and teacher – how am I supposed to find time to do all these?” It is easy to take a step back with the justification that we are burdened with too many responsibilities to take advantage of the emerging new communication technologies to be in touch with the students. The former argument may be great to justify our inertia, but the latter is what our students need.

Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel once said “Only the paranoid survive”. Majority of students are paranoid about social media such as Facebook and will continue to use it in ways any one of us cannot even imagine. Therefore, to survive as an effective teacher, it will be foolish to keep away from such an important resource around which students’ lives are woven.  Do you agree with me?


  1. R. Junco, “Too much face and not enough books: the relationship between multiple indices of facebook use and academic performance,” Computers in Human Behavior, Vol.28(1), pp.187–198, 2012.
  2. S. G. Mazman and Y. K. Usluel, “Modeling educational usage of Facebook”, Computers & Education, vol.55, pp.444-453, 2010.
  3. H. Ajjan and R. Hartshorne, “Investigating faculty decisions to adopt Web 2.0 technologies: theory and empirical tests”, The Internet and Higher Education, vol.11(2), pp.71-80, 2008.
  4. M.E.J. Newman, “The structure and function of complex networks,” SIAM Review, Vol. 45(2), pp.167-256, 2003.
  5. K. F. Hew, “Students’ and teachers’ use of Facebook”, Computers in Human Behavior, Vol.27, pp.662–676, 2011.
  6. S. I. Kio and J. Negreiros, “Facebook as an Informal Learning Space Channel: The São José, Macao, Cases”, Learning and Teaching in Computing and Engineering, pp.70-76, 2013.
  7. K. Gray, L. Annabell and G. Kennedy, “Medical students’ use of facebook to support learning: insights from four case studies”, Medical Teacher, Vol.32(12), pp.971–976, 2010.
  8. C. Harwood and B. Blackstone, “Using Facebook to Extend Learning into Students’ Digital Lives”, ELTWorldOnline.com, March 2012.
  9. S. Manca and M. Ranieri, “Is it a tool suitable for learning? A critical review of the literature on Facebook as a technology-enhanced learning environment”, Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, Volume 29, Issue 6, pages 487–504, December 2013.
  10. A. M. Fewkes and M. McCabe, “Facebook: Learning tool or distraction? “, Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education, 28(3), 92–98, 2012.
  11. N. Leelathakul and K. Chaipah, “Quantitative Effects of using Facebook as a Learning Tool on Students’ Performance”, 10th International Joint Conference on Computer Science and Software Engineering (JCSSE), pp.87-92, 2013.
  12. R. A. Sánchez, V. Cortijo and U. Javedc, “Students’ perceptions of Facebook for academic purposes”, Computers & Education, vol.70, pp.138–149, 2014.
  13. S. Aydin, “Foreign language learners’ interactions with their teachers on Facebook”, System, Vol.42, pp.155–163, 2014.
  14. L. Promnitz-Hayashi, “A learning success story using Facebook”, Studies in Self-Access Learning Journal, Vol.2(4), pp.309-316, 2011.
  15. P. Ractham and D. Firpo, “Using Social Networking Technology to Enhance Learning in Higher Education: A Case Study using Facebook”, Proceedings of the 44th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences – 2011, pp.1-10.
  16. W. W. Goh, J. L. Hong, K. S. Goh, “Students’ Behavior and Perception of Using Facebook As a Learning Tool”, The 8th International Conference on Computer Science & Education, pp.731-736, 2013.
Posted in Education and Research | Tagged | 7 Comments

Review of mamidala.wordpress.com in 2013

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 26,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 10 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Posted in Education and Research | 1 Comment

Telling lies to describe truth: Do we emphasize the importance of “the art of approximations” to the students?

Every day, I am faced with the dilemma of explaining some complex phenomena or the other to my students. In a given time that I spend with my students in the class, how do I make them understand a difficult topic? To realize my goal, I tell “lies to students”, a phrase I coined after reading fantasy writer Terry Prachett’s “lies to children”.  A lie, according to Prachett, is “a statement that is false, but which nevertheless leads the child’s mind towards a more accurate explanation”. We use “lies” as tools if we aim to be effective teachers in conveying a complex subject in an understandable language. Like all teachers, I am honest too. Therefore, I actually say something like this: “Look, I am going to tell this lie to make you understand better”.  Tomorrow if my students have to shape into good engineers or scientists, they need to master this “art of telling lies” because everything in science is an approximation to reality or “a lie”. If you disagree with what I am saying, perhaps you would find comfort in what Richard Levins said, “Our truth is the intersection of independent lies”. He further says “Even the most flexible models have artificial assumptions. There is always room for doubt as to whether a result depends on the essentials of a model or on the details of the simplifying assumptions.”

Approximations are an essential part of scientific pursuits. When I use approximations to explain a concept, my students are often perplexed. They think I am trivializing a profound concept. After making approximations, often unrealistic or unphysical, a lengthy and complex equation reduces to a simple form and gives us a greater insight about the working of a system. I could then see a smile on the faces of the students.  Bertrand Russell said in “The Scientific Outlook” (1931), “Although this may seem a paradox, all exact science is dominated by the idea of approximation. When a man tells you that he knows the exact truth about anything, you are safe in inferring that he is an inexact man.”

We habitually use approximations during our lectures. We often do not, however, emphatically underline the fact that many of the laws or theories we study are actually mere approximations.   We tend to pretend during lectures that the laws we are presenting are truths. This is because, as humans, we all suffer from a syndrome called confirmation bias which forces us to seek ideas that fit our current views than critically think and contradict with what we hold as truth. Take, for example, Ohm’s law or Henry’s law. How often did we tell our students that they are in fact not “laws” at all and that they are simply approximations to experimental observations.  When a student asked me to add my perspective on approximations, I almost withdrew.  I did not know how to approach this subject of approximations which seemed too complex to me. Approximations do hold the key to the evolution of modern knowledge. But how can I make such an assertion to my students? We seemingly want to use approximations everywhere but not think about how approximations have influenced the thinking of generations of scientists.

The basic underlying principles of any complicated aspect of nature can be obtained only if we make appropriate approximations.  The evolution of science is often driven by measurement uncertainties, approximations, estimates, unphysical assumptions and often well thought out speculations.  Einstein is clear about it when he said, As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain, and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.” Approximations help us in bridging the gap between what is not certain and what is reality.  As practitioners of science, we know their importance. But are we sensitizing our students enough about it?  I think it is not adequate just to “derive” a formula or a theory but it is also essential to discuss the underlying philosophy of the approximations we make. Otherwise, students may often think that the approximations do not make “sense”.  They may not even appreciate the importance of acquiring the ability to make approximations.

When you are faced with a complex situation, the solution looks intractable. We need to break down the complexity into a simpler form. How can we do that without approximations?  To make this point clear, let us look at some outstanding “approximations” that influenced the future of science.

For a hardened science practitioner, making approximations may sound unremarkable but not to the student. Simply knowing or being told that pi has an approximate value is of little relevance unless the student is made to appreciate how the idea of finding an approximation to pi actually led to new knowledge.  Archimedes’s persistence in using the method of exhaustion to find a better approximation to Pi ultimately paved the way to a new area of mathematics called integral calculus. But often we fail to emphasize this connection leaving the student a chance to appreciate why approximations are important.

Since the time Copernicus pointed out that the Sun is the center of the solar system, everyone believed that planets moved in circular orbits at a constant speed. Kepler did not like this idea since it was not fitting the best available data of that time for planet Mar’s orbit. After many frustrating efforts, Kepler found that elongated circles or ellipses fitted the data nearly well. He knew that an ellipse is an approximation to a circle when the foci are brought closer. He simply kept the Sun at one of the foci of the ellipse. This led to Kepler’s first law. He, however, was not satisfied with the results leading him to postulate that the speed of the planet changed as it approached the Sun. This became his second law. His effort was an unthinkable scientific feat. Kepler’s work, published in the year 1609, is a historical example of how one can use limited data but make inspired guesses using appropriate approximations.

We need to provide students the appreciation of the unity of approximation and innovation.  It was Edward Lorenz, an MIT professor, who proved that the weather cannot be predicted with any reasonable accuracy beyond about two weeks. His mathematical models, consisting of just three variables and three equations, indicated that there are formal predictability limits for certain deterministic systems.  Lorenz found this accidentally. This brilliant insight that we have to accept approximate predictions when dealing with large dynamic systems, such as the atmosphere led to a new scientific field called the chaos theory.  After relativity and quantum mechanics, the chaos theory is considered to be a third scientific revolution of the 20th century. Lorenz will be remembered for making us aware that weather forecasting will always remain approximate.  The Kyoto Prize committee noted that Lorenz “has brought about one of the most dramatic changes in mankind’s view of nature since Sir Isaac Newton”.

Factorials are used very commonly in algebra, calculus, probability theory and number theory. Using successive multiplication, one can calculate the factorial of any non-negative integer n. But from a computing point of view, that is an utterly inefficient way of finding the factorial if n is large. Large factorials can easily be computed using approximations such as Stirling’s approximation. If you are not a mathematician, you may not be aware that Srinvasa Ramanujan’s approximation to factorial n is even more accurate than Stirling’s approximation as the value of n increases. Ramanujan is well-known for many other approximations in number theory and his approach to obtain these approximations is unparalleled in the history of mathematics since the time we began our efforts to approximate the value of pi about 4000 years ago.

Sometimes scientists abandon well respected old ideas and theories only to find themselves amidst new revelations. Perturbation theory is a great mathematical approach which helps us find approximate solutions to problems to which it may be impossible to find exact solutions. This theory has its origins in a concept called ‘linear approximation’ in use since 17th century in physics.  Hooke’s law is a famous example of linear approximation.  Let me explain it in simple words.

Hooke’s law, discovered by Robert Hook in 1660, states that “the force F a spring experiences is proportional to the distance x it is deformed from its natural length L”.  Hooke’s law is expressed as F = -kx where k is a constant.  There cannot be a simpler equation to describe the elastic behavior of a spring. However, it is clear that the spring cannot be compressed to zero thickness or it cannot be stretched to infinite lengths where it will break. Hooke’s law will simply fail at these extreme lengths. For a limited range of x, as long as the deformation is “small”, we see that Hooke’s law is a linear approximation and works quite effectively. Ohm’s law, equations for thermal expansion or pendulum movement all of which are linear approximations based on experimental observations. In the absence of a deeper appreciation of linear approximations, Raleigh and Schrodinger, could not have invented the perturbation theory without which there is no possibility of finding simple solutions to describe complex quantum systems.

When we want to describe reality, space and time remain as our fundamental conceptual aids. However, a recent approximation developed by scientists is expected to break this notion. Particles, spread all over the universe, interact constantly with each other and are the most basic events intrinsic to Nature. The laws that govern the particle interactions are described by the quantum field theory. The complexity of these equations, running into several thousands of terms, needed to capture the nature of elementary particles and their interactions is overwhelming.  But all that is going to change dramatically with the discovery of a jewel like geometric object, called “amplituhedron” by Nima Arkani-Hamed of Institute of Advanced Studies, Princeton, N.J.  Finding the volume of this amplituhedron, Arkani-Hamed’s team has demonstrated that the complex equations of quantum field theory can be reduced to an equivalent simple expression. With this advancement, the researchers claim, one can make the quantum field theory computations even on the back of an envelope without the need for advanced computers.

Mathematical description of gravity at the quantum scale is an uphill-task due to the possibility of sudden surprises involving inexplicable paradoxes and infinities. The physics world is now abuzz with the likelihood of developing a simple unified theory of quantum gravity (to combine the large and small-scale understanding of the universe) using similar geometrical approximations. This area of study is evolving and not all scientists are comfortable with the idea that we can throw away the notions of time and space and use only simple geometrical approximations. However, even in the 21st century, approximations continue to be a “hot” topic and draw fiery debates among scientists because they could shatter our rigid deep rooted beliefs of reality and present mother Nature in a more comprehensible and simple form.

Let us rejoice in the centuries old practice of “approximations”. Let us exhort our students to look for opportunities to approximate. If you can underline “approximations” as an important tool of scientific pursuit to be mastered and make students pay serious attention and not simply stare over them, we shall have accomplished a valuable and significant task as professors. Einstein once said about God, ““I want to know His thoughts. The rest is just details.” For students it would be more fascinating to know how scientists worked toward developing a scientific idea using approximations than knowing the idea itself. But for this to happen, we have to get away from being routine teachers and instead work harder to become effective teachers, a species fast becoming rarer than the hen’s teeth.

Approximations are the lifeline to solve the most complicated aspects of nature. Some professors do emphasize the philosophical and historical aspects of approximations in their lectures. Why not every professor? Who knows if one of our students enthused by our emphasis on the importance of approximations would turn out to be a future Ramanujan or Kepler or Schrodinger? Don’t you agree?

PS: “Telling lies to describe truth” in my title is used only to catch your attention. I do not certainly mean approximations are “lies”.

Posted in Education and Research | Tagged , , , , | 18 Comments

Making your research paper discoverable: Title plays the winning trick

When you write a research paper, it is not just to tell about your exciting research results to the world but to describe how science works in all its glory. Research papers help us to publicize and champion a scientific argument.  The first scientific papers appeared in press sometime in 1665 in non-standardized form and style [1, 2]. This was later followed by the introduction of structured papers and peer review process [3].  Since then, a scientific paper in general contains (i) Title, (ii) Abstract (iii) Key words, (iv) Introduction, (v) Theory/Experimental Method (vi) Results and discussion, (vii) Conclusions and (viii) References.

 Which research paper to read?

Before we begin to work in a new research area, we would like to know about the past work done on the topic by other researchers. Since we cannot read all those papers that have been published, we need to narrow them down to a manageable number. During this process, the first contact a prospective reader will make with a scientific paper is the title. Title scanning is an everyday routine of any active scientist. We often flick through the titles to decide on the suitability and the importance of a paper to our research. In reality, it is the title of the paper which creates the first impression and  studies suggest that researchers often decide to read a paper solely based on the information in the title [4].

What is a title?

 The most important component of any textual document is its title. Semantically speaking, a title should be captivating, informative and should introduce the subject of the paper to the reader in a clear and concise manner. From a syntactic point of view, a title “is metadata with a structure that can be a word, phrase, expression, or sentence, that serves to indicate a paper or one of its parts and give its subject” [5]. Consequently, a good title should provide reasonable answers to the following two questions [6]:

  • Does the title of your manuscript, seen in isolation, give a full yet concise and specific indication of the work reported?  
  • Would someone interested in the exact topic of your paper, reading this title, be inclined to read the abstract?

How are Titles used in digital libraries?

In today’s digital world, it is the web information retrieval by the internet search engines which will decide the visibility of your paper [7]. They fail you if a good title is not chosen making your work obscure and unreachable to the intended audience. There are now several standard digital libraries such as

which can be used to search for scientific articles.  There are also web based bookmarking services such as

for storing, organizing and sharing research papers. For search engines in the above portals, the words in the title provide the clues for appropriate indexing in the bibliographic databases. This will help the users to retrieve scholarly data at a later time based on words or a combination of words stored in the index. The title of your paper will become an important element of the internet scientific repository and may be read by scores of users for years to come. Therefore, the choice of words in the title is vital to enhance the discoverability of your paper.

What are the common attributes of a title?

Titles are typically categorized into three groups – nominal titles, compound titles and full sentence titles. A vast majority of titles are “nominal titles” capturing the main theme of the paper e.g. Poly-silicon Spacer Gate Technique to Reduce Gate Charge of a Trench Power MOSFET [8]. Titles with a colon are called compound titles or hanging titles. For example, the title of this article (Making your research paper discoverable: Title plays the winning trick) is a compound title consisting of two phrases on either side of the colon.

Full sentence titles are not a common occurrence in engineering journals. They are, however, used in some disciplines such as biology e.g. Activation of Aryl Hydrocarbon Receptor (AhR) by Tranilast, an Anti-allergy Drug, Promotes miR-302 Expression and Cell Reprogramming [9]. Full sentence titles tend to be longer and more assertive about the outcome of the study.

A title can contain commas, parenthesis and quotation marks but you should never use semicolons (;) and slashes (/). Commas are used in the middle of the title and quotation marks are used only for a part of the title, not the entire title. Evidence also suggests that the presence of colon in the title increases its discoverability [10] and the length of the title is positively correlated to the number of citations.

Use of the articles (a, an and the) in titles is very common. The number of words in a title may vary anywhere between 2 and 24 with the average number of words being approximately nine [11]. Question marks are generally not used in the titles of scientific articles e.g. How Metabolism Generates Signals during Innate Immunity and Inflammation [12].

General procedure for writing a title:

When we write a research paper, first we think about its outline, we then prepare a draft and revise it several times. For designing a good title, we need to do a similar exercise by first choosing a working title for the research paper and then refining it [13]. To choose a title, I usually summarize the main theme of my paper in a few sentences. I then choose the most important words of this summary and put them in a proper order. After several revisions, the title is ready. For example, for one of my recent papers, I have written the following:

  • My research work is on tunneling field effect transistors.
  • I have worked on an idea which makes it possible to realize these transistors without doing any impurity doping.
  • I have designed this transistor and investigated its electrical characteristics.

From the above summary, I have carefully chosen the words and placed them in a suitable order to form a sentence – The design and investigation of tunnel field effect transistors without impurity doping. After reviewing this working title several times, I was able to shorten it keeping the essence. The result was – Doping-less Tunneling Field Effect Transistor: Design and Investigation [14]. Peers in this area will immediately recognize all the words in the title and it conveys the essence of the work embodied in the research paper. Shorter titles are easy to read on mobile devices and can be transmitted on communication platforms such as Twitter. Short titles look good and take lesser time to read but do not try to make them too short.

Do you now see that a title is not just a summary of the paper? Preparing a title involves text compression by pruning removable words from the summary. Titles of multi-author research papers may come out to be better since each author will have a different level of appreciation of the contents of the paper leading to various formulations of the title. The best among the possibilities will get picked up.

Can we create a new acronym or a phrase in a title?

It is possible to use a new acronym or phrase only when the contents of your paper substantiate it. Some time ago, during the course of our research, we found that by creating a surface accumulation layer of electrons in the emitter of a bipolar transistor, the current gain of the transistor could be significantly increased. We tried to give a new phrase and acronym to this phenomenon but could not succeed. A chance discussion with a senior colleague about this led to a nice title – Surface Accumulation Layer Transistor (SALTran): A New Bipolar Transistor for Enhanced Current Gain and Reduced Hot-carrier Degradation [15]. Well, sometimes, discussing with your colleagues about your problem can lead to useful outcomes.

Are long titles bad?

You should not shy away from making the title longer, if necessary, since the words in a title are often used for indexing by the search engines. While short titles look good, it is not always possible and desirable to write a short title. For one of my papers, I chose the following title – Two-Dimensional Analytical Modeling of Fully Depleted Dual-Material Gate (DMG) SOI MOSFET and Evidence for Diminished Short-Channel Effects [16]. Looks longer but contains many important key words. In fact, a longer title may contain more key words improving its discoverability by the search engines. A recent study on choosing a title has concluded that “A longer, more comprehensive title is both more likely to contain any given search term and, therefore, be identified, and also if the title provides a clear description of the study or its findings, is also more likely to be identified as relevant on the initial search screening process” [17]. Acronyms, such as SOI and MOSFET in the above title, will be useful for indexing by the search engines. Acronyms, therefore, need not be completely eliminated from titles.


Writing scientific titles is a challenging task and an art. However, there is no general agreement “on the standard and good title writing practice in different scientific disciplines and genres” [18]. During the short time the reader spends looking at your title, he would also decide on the relevance of your paper for his work. If the title does not convey this message quickly, the reader will move on and there is every chance that your work may be relegated to the obscurity [19].

Titles play a critical role in making or breaking the visibility of your paper. If you are a novice writer, next time when you sit down to write a title for your paper, I am sure you will be more mindful of the consequences of designing a bad title. Do you agree with me?


  1. R. A. Audisio, R. A. Stahel, M. S. Aapro, A. Costa, M. Pandey and N. Pavlidis, “Review Successful publishing: how to get your paper accepted”, Surg Oncol., Vol.18(4), pp.350-356, 2009.
  2. G. M. Liumbruno, C. Velati, P. Pasqualetti and M. Franchini, “How to write a scientific manuscript for publication”, Blood Transfusion, Vol.11(2), pp.217-226, 2013.
  3. A. J. Singer and J. E. Hollander, “How to write a manuscript”, J Emerg Med., Vol.36(1), pp.89-93, 2009.
  4. C. Bazerman, “Physicists reading physics: Scheme-laden purposes and purpose laden scheme”, Written Communication, Vol.2, pp.3-23, 1985.
  5. C. Lopeza, V. Princeb and M. Rocheb, “How can catchy titles be generated without loss of informativeness”, Expert System with Application, pp.1-18, 2013, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.eswa.2013.07.102.
  6. C. Mack, “How to write a good scientific paper: title, abstract, and keywords”, Journal of Micro/Nanolithography, MEMS, and MOEMS, Vol.11(2), pp.020101-1 -  020101-4, 2012.
  7. E.  Amolochitis, I. T.  Christou, Z. -H. Tan and R. Prasad, “A heuristic hierarchical scheme for academic search and retrieval”,  Information Processing and Management, Vol.49, pp.1326–1343, 2013.
  8. R. S. Saxena and M. J. Kumar, “Poly-silicon Spacer Gate Technique to Reduce Gate Charge of a Trench Power MOSFET,”  IEEE Trans. on Electron Devices, Vol.59, pp.738-744, 2012.
  9. W. Hu, J. Zhao and G. Pei, “Activation of Aryl Hydrocarbon Receptor (AhR) by Tranilast, an Anti-allergy Drug, Promotes miR-302 Expression and Cell Reprogramming”, J. Biol. Chem., Vol.288, pp.22972-22984, 2013.
  10. M. E. Falagas, A. Zarkali, D. E. Karageorgopoulos, V. Bardakas V and M. N. Mavros, “The impact of article length on the number of future citations: a bibliometric analysis of general medicine journals”, PLoS One, Vol.8(2), p.e49476, 2013.
  11. L. Anthony, “Characteristic Features of Research Article Titles in Computer Science”, IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, Vol. 44, pp.187-194, 2001.
  12. A. F.  McGettrick  and L.  A.  J.  O’Neill, “How Metabolism Generates Signals during Innate Immunity and Inflammation”, J. Biol. Chem. Vol.288, pp.22893-22898, 2013.
  13. Center for Research Writing Resources, “Writing an Effective Title-How to Write a Research Paper: An Editage Series”, Cactus communications Ltd., 2006.
  14. M. J. Kumar and S. Janardhanan, “Doping-less Tunnel Field Effect Transistor: Design and Investigation”,  IEEE Trans. on Electron Devices, Vol.60, pp.3285 – 3290, October 2013.
  15. M. J. Kumar and V. Parihar, “Surface Accumulation Layer Transistor (SALTran): A New Bipolar Transistor for Enhanced Current Gain and Reduced Hot-carrier Degradation,” IEEE Trans. on Device and Materials Reliability, Vol.4, pp. 509-519, 2004.
  16. M. J. Kumar and A. Chaudhry, “Two-Dimensional Analytical Modeling of Fully Depleted Dual-Material Gate (DMG) SOI MOSFET and Evidence for Diminished Short-Channel Effects”, IEEE Trans. on Electron Devices, Vol.51, pp.569-574, 2004.
  17. T. S. Jacques and N. J. Sebire, “The impact of article titles on citation hits: an analysis of general and specialist medical journals”, Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine Short Reports, Vol. 1(1), p.2, 2010.
  18. V. Soler, “Writing titles in science: An exploratory study”, English for Specific Purposes, Vol.26, pp.90–102, 2007.
  19. M. Haggan, “Research paper titles in literature, linguistics and science: dimensions of attraction”, Journal of Pragmatics, Vol.36, pp.293–317, 2004.
Posted in Education and Research | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

How does the power of “suggestion” influence students’ performance?

As a professor in an institute of higher education, I believe that my primary role is to be a partner with my students to enhance their cognitive skills by creating an interactive teaching-learning atmosphere in the class room. When the students enter my class, they are already equipped with the lower order cognitive skills such as simple recall of facts or the ability to apply known theories to familiar situations. What they need to master are the higher order cognitive skills – ability to question, analyze and synthesize, problem solving capabilities and critical evaluative thinking including the application of known knowledge to unfamiliar situations [1,2].  While there are time tested techniques to improve these skills, we appear to have not paid any attention to the subtle  and potent technique of “suggestion” in the classroom.

 But what is a “suggestion”?  How can suggestions to the students in the classroom influence their academic goals and change the outcome of their learning experience? Let me first give you some thought-provoking real life understandings of the power of “suggestion”.

 In an experiment, three independent groups of people were asked to find an inverted ‘T’ buried in distractions [3,4]. Each group was asked to sniff a scented pad before starting their task. The first group was told that sniffing the scented cotton pad would improve their ability to recognize the inverted ‘T’. The second group was told that sniffing would hurt their performance in recognizing the inverted ‘T’.  The third group was told that sniffing would have no effect on their performance. Surprisingly, the outcome was exactly similar to the “suggestions”. The first group found the inverted ‘T’ quickly compared to the second group which took a longer time. Perhaps it is the expectation of improved performance from the first group which led to this outcome. Such behavioral changes influenced by suggestions are called “response expectancies”. This experiment demonstrates that suggestions can, therefore, affect implicit learning abilities either in a useful or a detrimental manner.

 Suggestions can also lead people to increase cognitive effort and increase memory performance.  To accomplish different day-to-day activities, we often depend on our prospective memory – “the ability to remember to perform a future action” [3]. Prospective memory tasks range from simple actions such as remembering to take a chalk to your classroom to important tasks such as ending your lecture on time. Let us examine another experiment where a group of people were given a sham drug and were told that it would improve their memory performance and the second group was also given the same sham drug but was not told about its effect [5]. Interestingly, when they were asked to do some high intensity prospective memory tasks, the first group performed better than the second group. The mechanism of suggestion, tacitly employed in this case, did the trick in improving the performance of the first group.

 How we respond to a medicine could be influenced by suggestions too [3]. Patients who were given a muscle relaxant drug felt relaxed since they were told about it a priori. A different set of patients who were administered the same drug got tensed when they were told that the drug was a stimulant [6]. In another situation, athletes ran faster when they were told that the drug they took would enhance their performance while in reality it was a fake drug [7].

 There is reasonable research evidence now to show that “expectancies can directly alter our subjective experience of internal states” [3]. As a result, we also modify our behavior to produce a particular outcome when we anticipate it. This is called Response Expectancy Theory [8,9].  What these studies tell us that while we may like to believe that “our thoughts and our behaviors are rationally constructed”, the research shows otherwise. Our thoughts and our behaviors are indeed influenced by all kinds of information — including the tacit suggestion and expectation [3].

  As teaching professionals, it is worthwhile for us to stop and take a look at these findings so that they are given the importance they deserve. Can we do something differently in the classroom to see that our “suggestions”, either planned or unplanned, will lead to “response expectancies” which will moderate the teaching-learning outcomes of our students?

 Our body language and the way we interact with our students in the classroom can often convey either unintentional or intentional suggestions to the students. When pedagogical approaches are changing and divergence among students’ background in a classroom is on an increase, as professors, we are likely to treat such situations as alien and refuse to adapt to the new reality.  We do not like the prospect of ‘letting go of earlier, comfortable positions and encountering less familiar and sometimes disconcerting new territory’ [10]. We have a propensity to stereotype students by complaining that their underperformance is either because they are not smart enough or they are not spending enough time in their academic pursuits. It is not uncommon to attribute the bad performance of students to their lack of interest in the subject instead of scrutinizing our own approach to teaching. In large classes, teaching often turns into professor centric, transforming the classroom into a place where the students are treated as subordinates with no freedom to express their opinions and concerns. As a result of this hostility and negative perceptions, the professor and the students assume adversarial roles rather than being partners. How sad! Sending these negative suggestions is bound to sway the students’ performance and hinder the completion of their academic milestones. What suggestive actions could be performed by a professor in a classroom or outside to minimize the intensification of stress and negative feelings among students? There are multiple ways of generating positive suggestions but I would like to draw your attention to only a few examples.

 In a large class, it is not easy to interact with each student. However, once in a while, let us say the professor identifies a shy student and interacts with her while the rest of the class is watching them. Here the expectation of the professor is that the student comes out of the shell and engages with others unreservedly.  This indirect suggestion would make the student to loosen up and socialize with the rest of the class freely over a period of time. If I were the student, I would have felt a positive impetus because the professor recognized my presence and gave me importance. In this example, what is suggestive, therefore, is the professor occasionally interacting with the students and making them feel special [3].  This phenomenon is known as the Hawthorne effect [11] which says that if an individual is regarded as important in a group, it will lead to that person working harder and sticking to a task longer.  The fact that suggestions positively affect the students’ abilities sounds intriguing but there is now growing research evidence to corroborate it [3, 12].

 We frequently have to deal with students who are depressed about their academic performance. They continue to imagine that their academic performance is not going to become any better in spite of their best effort and conceal themselves in a spiral of depression. As their professor, it is certainly within our reach to use the power of suggestion to bring at least a few such students out of this “hopeless situation”.  There is mounting evidence which confirms the fact that “suggestion is a central factor in treating depression” [13]. When we interact with such students, if we are insensitive to their anxieties, we are bound to heighten their negative expectancies. Conversely, shouldn’t we try to bolster their self-worth and enhance their motivation to do well by suggesting to them realistic and non-hopeless alternate expectations?  This will result in a “realistic hopefulness” and could alleviate their distress [13,14].

 Individual differences in learning capabilities heighten the anxiety levels in students forcing them to retreat into a shell. They dedicate a significant amount of their intellectual resources in combating the intrusive negative thoughts and concerns [15]. This will, in turn, result in their underperformance leading to even dropping out of a course. Professors should “suggest” to the students that they are mindful of this by designing evaluation procedures that will test not only the fast-thinking high-performance students but also slow learners.

 The world we live in is ambiguous and indefinite.  We often disambiguate the world that surrounds us by forming expectations. Our performance outcomes and experiences are, therefore, controlled by two factors – the suggestions we receive from different sources and the expectations that are built around these suggestions [13]. As professors, we should take a lead in providing suggestions and helping students to form realistic expectations. Through the power of suggestion, if we could make the student understand that a realistic goal is more realizable, then the prospect of the student altering his approach to meet the expectation would be more. During our interactions with the students if we can convey the “suggestion” that they are matured and responsible individuals and that they are capable of doing well in their academic pursuits, it is bound to send a positive trigger enhancing their self-esteem. Playing this partnership role in assisting the students navigate through their learning process should be a natural ingredient of our discourse with the students.

 Is anyone listening?


 [1] P. P. Lemons and J. D. Lemons, “Questions for Assessing Higher-Order Cognitive Skills: It’s Not Just Bloom’s”, CBE—Life Sciences Education, Vol.12, pp.47–58, 2013.

[2]  U. Zoller and G. Tsaparlis, “Higher and Lower-Order Cognitive Skills: The Case of Chemistry”, Research in Science Education, Vol.27(1), pp.117-130, 1997.

 [3] R. B. Michael, M. Garry and I. Kirsch, “Suggestion, Cognition, and Behavior”, Current Directions in Psychological Science, Vol.21(3), pp.151–156, 2012.

 [4] B. Colagiuri, E. J. Livesey and J. A. Harris, “Can expectancies produce placebo effects for implicit learning?”, Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, Vol.18, pp.399–405, 2010.

 [5]  S. Parker, M. Garry, G. O. Einstein and M. A. McDaniel, “A sham drug improves a demanding prospective memory task”, Memory, Vol.19, pp.606–612, 2011.

 [6] M. A. Flaten, T. Simonsen and H. Olsen, “Drug-related information generates placebo and nocebo responses that modify the drug response”, Psychosomatic Medicine, Vol.61, pp.250–255, 1999.

 [7] M. McClung and D. Collins, “Because I know it will!”: Placebo effects of an ergogenic aid on athletic performance”, Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, Vol.29, pp.382–394, 2007.

 [8] I. Kirsch, “Response expectancy as a determinant of experience and behavior”, American Psychologist, Vol.40, pp.1189–1202, 1985.

 [9] I. Kirsch, “Response expectancy theory and application: A decennial review”, Applied & Preventive Psychology, Vol.6, pp.69–79, 1997.

 [10] R. Land, G. Cousin, J. H. F. Meyer and P. Davies, “Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge (3): Implications for course design and evaluation”, in C. Rust (Ed.), Improving student learning: Diversity and inclusivity, Oxford: Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development, pp. 53–64, 2005.

 [11] J. G. Adair, “The Hawthorne effect: A reconsideration of the methodological artifact”, Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol.69, pp.334–345, 1984.

 [12] S. M. Jaeggi, M. Buschkuehl, J. Jonides and W. J. Perrig, “Improving fluid intelligence with training on working memory,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, Vol.105, pp.6829–6833, 2008.

 [13]. I. Kirsch and C. B. Low, “Suggestion in the Treatment of Depression”, American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, Vol. 55(3), pp.221-229, 2013.

 [14] M. D. Yapko, “Hypnosis in the treatment of depression: An overdue approach for encouraging skillful mood management”, International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, Vol.58, pp.137–146, 2010.

 [15]  T. T. Brunyé, C. R. Mahoney, G. E. Giles, D. N. Rapp, H. A. Taylor and R. B. Kanarek, “Learning to relax: Evaluating four brief interventions for overcoming the negative emotions accompanying math anxiety”, Learning and Individual Differences, Vol.27, pp.1-7, 2013.


You are welcome to read my other articles available at http://mamidala.wordpress.com/category/education-and-research/

Posted in Education and Research | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Back to basics: Why every student and professor should ride a bicycle on a University Campus?

M. Jagadesh Kumar, Professor, Department of Electrical Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, Hauz Khas, New Delhi-110016  http://web.iitd.ac.in/~mamidala

If you happen to visit Paris next time, try cycling across the Paris city using the bicycles offered by Velib, an initiative run by Paris Town Hall since 2007. This is a big bicycle sharing facility in the world with 20,000 bicycles at your service 24/7. You can move around the entire Paris city with bicycles available in 1800 bicycle stations at every 300 meter distance [1]. With growing vehicular congestion, rising fuel costs and choking pollution, the homo sapiens are now increasingly drawn to the good wheels. There are many cities in the world which are bicycle friendly such as Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Copenhagen, Paris in Europe and Boulder, Chicago, Davis, Ottawa, Portland, San Francisco in North America, Beijing in Asia, Cape Town, Bogota and Perth in Australia [2].

London city in the United Kingdom has implemented a bicycle sharing scheme known as Barclays Cycle Hire or BCH in 2010. In 2012, BCH had about 8000 bicycles with 570 docking stations [3].  Barcelona’s new transport system, known as Bicing has more than 400 bike stations placed strategically near bus stops and metro stations [4].  Many North American cities are actively promoting increased use of bicycles as an alternative mode of transportation through large public campaigns and by investing in bicycle infrastructure and bicycle sharing programs [5]. In Munster, a German town with a population of 273,000, people use bicycles more often (37.8%) than cars (36.4%) as the main mode of transportation [6].

Despite the fact that the world is rediscovering the wheels without fuel, India seems to be going the other way – the automobile style.  The economic survey of Delhi (2012-2013) tells us a disturbing trend – the number of households in Delhi owning a bicycle has come down from 37.6 % in 2001 to 30.6 % in 2011 [7].  This is either because India is advancing economically letting more people to own motorized vehicles or Indian roads are becoming notoriously the least safe places to ride any vehicle, leave alone bicycles.   Safety of bicyclists is of no concern to the road planners in India anyway [8,9] and that perhaps acts as the biggest deterrent to the people to “hit” the road on their bicycles.

Not hearsay – It is scientific:

While you do not have to be a rocket scientist to realize that using bicycles for transport in place of fuel based vehicles has vast benefits in terms of health and environment, there are indeed systematic scientific studies to quantify such paybacks.  A contemporary scrutiny in New Zealand using the data available in the urban settings shows that a mere shift of 5% of the distance travelled by vehicles to bicycling would lead to a reduction of approximately 223 million kilometers travelled by vehicles each year. This can result in a saving of about 22 million liters of fuel and therefore a reduction in the transport-related greenhouse emissions [10].

A number of investigations also confirm the individual and population-level health benefits of using bicycles.  A recent analysis of Swedish children, conducted over a period of 6 years, has shown that those who used bicycles to commute to the school have improved their cardiorespiratory fitness more than those using passive modes of commuting including walking [11]. Bicycling has also been shown to reduce the cardiometabolic risk factors leading to a potential prevention of type 2 diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular disease (CVD) [12]. Bicycling leads to less weight gain particularly among overweight and obese women [13].

But where are the safe roads for bicycle riders?

A study of bicyclists in the Portland, Oregon metropolitan area has shown that well-connected neighbourhood streets and bicycle specific infrastructure has encouraged more adults to bicycling for utilitarian purposes [14]. Safe roads are, therefore, an essential pre-requisite for popularizing bicycle usage. Changing the Indian road landscape to make them bicycle friendly is not in our hands as individual citizens. The best we could do is to create awareness and bring pressure on the policy makers to act. Like many other peaceful public campaigns or agitations, we never know how long it would take for public pressure to succeed in bringing such changes to make the Indian road bicycle friendly. We, however, cannot keep waiting eternally. But, as individuals and small communities consisting of students, staff and faculty in Universities and higher educational institutes, can we do something to bring the bicycling back into our lives?

If you leave out the treacherous Indian roads and highways, are there any safe roads in India where we can use bicycles for short distance transport? Luckily, the answer is yes. The best places to start such initiatives could be the campuses of Indian universities and higher educational institutes where a large population of students, staff and faculty live and commute on campus. Why not make a beginning on these campuses and showcase it as a model to emulate by the rest of the society? There are many North American universities which have successfully implemented campus bicycle sharing programs [15] and they compete with each other in promoting such programs.

What about accidents even on campus roads?

Road users in India excel in disregarding the traffic rules.  Even bicycle riders need to respect the road rules! Cyclists are frequently prone to accidents, particularly if they are seen as a minority on the roads jostling for space. Most accidents involving bicyclists occur at the road intersections. However, there is now strong empirical evidence to show that the chances of a bicyclist involving in a collision with a motor vehicle are inversely proportional to the number of people bicycling on the roads – a pattern that has been shown to be consistent across the cities and countries around the world [16]. Motorists adjust their behaviour and reduce their vehicle’s speed when they see a large number of people bicycling on the roads [17].  This is another reason why more people should be using the bicycles on their campuses.

Are there any Indian initiatives?

Unlike in the American universities, which are rated for their pro-active bicycle sharing programs by the League of American Bicyclists [15], campus bicycle initiatives are not yet popular in Indian educational institutes.  An interesting initiative in Bangalore city called “Namma Cycle” is worth to take notice of by all the educational institutes with large populations on their campuses [18]. The objective of the Namma Cycle concept is to raise public awareness about environmental friendly transport options for easy connectivity.  In Kannada language, “namma” means ours.  In the place of “my bicycle” or “your bicycle”, the “our bicycle” concept is expected to encourage the idea of community sharing and community ownership of bicycles. Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore is the first top Indian educational institute which has adopted the Namma Cycle model with a modest beginning of 150 bicycles and four bicycle stations. IISc plans to soon scale up this experiment by adding additional bicycles and bicycle stations. We need more such examples. Student-led bicycle initiatives are bound to succeed since they are in a majority on any campus.

We have no road space in our campus. What can we do?

Existing campuses may not have enough road space to create dedicated bicycle specific tracks and it is easy to brush away any suggestions for introducing bicycle initiatives claiming it is too difficult to implement. In such cases, there are other options available such as “sharrows” or shared lane markings to provide guidance to both the bicyclist and motorist by means of signage painted on the road.  The sharrows are often colored, like in the Stanford University, to alert the motorists that they are expected to share the road with the bicyclists. Sharrows will also minimize the wrong-way of bicycling by encouraging the bicyclists to confine themselves to the shared part of the road. Creation of a combination of (i) sharrows on narrow roads, (ii) contiguous bicycle specific tracks on wider roads, (iii) safe intersections or round-abouts to minimize conflicts between bicyclists and motorists, (iv) secure bicycle parking spaces to minimize thefts, (v) appropriate road safety signage  and (vi) 24/7 bicycle repair stands should still be a possibility in old campuses. Remember that Amsterdam did not have a bicycle initiative program before 1970’s and commuters used only motorized vehicles. However, a sustained effort by the policy makers and the commuters has now resulted in making the city a bicyclist’s paradise in the world.

When we build new educational campuses, the regulatory authorities should make it mandatory for the Universities to create the best bicycle infrastructure including dedicated bicycle paths and vehicle free zones where only bicycling or walking is permitted. Appropriate laws and policies should be in place to prevent any new higher educational institute from building their campus without such a commitment.

Pro-active measures are the key:

The perceived opinion of others about you using a bicycle does not really affect your decision to use a bicycle.  The factors that influence the use of a bicycle depend on awareness, direct trip-based benefits and safety factors [19]. To create public awareness on the usefulness of bicycle usage, electronic media and newspapers should encourage such efforts by giving a wide publicity. Bicycle manufacturers, bicycling communities and administrators of the University campuses should join hands in bringing the bicycles back to the center-stage by creating bicycle friendly campus transport infrastructure.

Proactive support from the administrators of educational institutes would play an important role in encouraging bicycling. They need to work out policies which support and sustain bicycle infrastructure, road usage planning and restrictions on motorized vehicle usage. They need to study fresh ideas, examine alternate options suitable for the specific needs of their campuses and implement them to increase the bicycle usage. Many studies have shown a close link between proactive interventions by the administrators and increased usage of bicycles [20]. The bicycle is no longer only for the poor who cannot afford to have an automobile. It is a must possession for everyone in a futuristic 21st century which will see a sizeable proportion of the world population living in congested cities.

What are you waiting for?

If you are a campus living lucky person, stash away your car keys in the cupboard or avoid using the campus bus transport and leap onto your bicycle. Ride your bicycle with the conviction that you are bettering yourself and the planet that sustains you. Get started. Do it today. There is no time to hold your fire for tomorrow.


  1. http://en.velib.paris.fr/
  2. http://edition.cnn.com/2011/TRAVEL/05/06/bike.friendly.cities.matador/index.html
  3. http://www.tfl.gov.uk/
  4. http://www.tourist-barcelona.com/default15.asp?view=barcelona-transport/bicing
  5. J. Strauss, L. M.-Moreno, D. Crouse, M. S. Goldberg, N. A. Ross and M. Hatzopoulou, “Investigating the link between cyclist volumes and air pollution along bicycle facilities in a dense urban core,” Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment, Vol.17, pp.619-625, December 2012.
  6. C. Juhra, B. Wieskotter, K. Chu, L. Trost, U. Weiss, M. Messerschmidt, A. Malczyk, M. Heckwolf and M. Raschke, “Bicycle accidents – Do we only see the tip of the iceberg? A prospective multi-centre study in a large German city combining medical and police data,” Injury-International Journal of the Care of the Injured, Vol.43, pp.2026-2034, December 2012.
  7. The economic survey of Delhi (2012-2013), Chapter 12: Transport- available at http://delhi.gov.in/wps/wcm/connect/DoIT_Planning/planning/our+services1/economic+survey+of+delhi+2012-13
  8. G. Gururaj, “Road Safety in India: A Framework for Action,” National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences, Publication no 83, Bangalore, 2011. http://www.nimhans.kar.nic.in/epidemiology/bisp/rsi2011.pdf
  9. G. Gururaj, “Road traffic and disabilities in India: Current scenario,” The National Medical Journal of India, Vol.21, pp.14-20, 2008.
  10. G. Lindsay, A. Macmillan and A. Woodward, “Moving urban trips from cars to bicycles: impact on health and emissions,” Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, Vol.35, pp.54-60, February 2011.
  11. P. Chillon, F. B. Ortega, J. R. Ruiz, K. R. Evenson, I. Labayen, V. Martinez-Vizcaino, A. Hurtig-Wennlof, T. Veidebaum and M. Sjostrom, “Bicycling to school is associated with improvements in physical fitness over a 6-year follow-up period in Swedish children,” Preventive Medicine, Vol. 55, pp.108-112, 2012.
  12. L. Ostergaard, L. A. B.  Borrestad, J. Tarp and L. B. Andersen, “Bicycling to school improves the cardiometabolic risk factor profile: a randomised controlled trial,” BMJ Open, Vol.2, Article Number: e001307, 2012.
  13. A. C. Lusk, R. A. Mekary, D. Feskanich and W.C. Willett, “Bicycle Riding, Walking, and Weight Gain in Premenopausal Women,” Archives of Internal Medicine, Vol.170, pp.1050-1056, 2010.
  14. J. Dill, “Bicycling for Transportation and Health: The Role of Infrastructure,” Journal of Public Health Policy, Vol.30, pp.S95-S110, 2009.
  15. http://blog.bikeleague.org/blog/2013/04/bicycle-friendly-university-ivy-league-continues-the-high-marks/
  16. P. L. Jacobsen, “Safety in numbers: more walkers and bicyclists, safer walking and bicycling,” Injury Prevention, Vol.9, pp.205-209, 2003.
  17. L. Chen, C. Chen, R. Srinivasan, C. E.  McKnight, R. Ewing and M. Roe, “Evaluating the Safety Effects of Bicycle Lanes in New York City”, American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 102, pp.1120-1127, 2012.
  18. http://www.nammacycle.in/
  19. E. Heinen, K. Maat and B. van Wee, “The role of attitudes toward characteristics of bicycle commuting on the choice to cycle to work over various distances,” Transportation Research Part D – Transport and Environment, Vol.16, pp.102-109, 2011.
  20. J. Pucher, J. Dill and S. Handy, “Infrastructure, programs, and policies to increase bicycling: An international review,” Preventive Medicine, Vol.50, pp.S106-S125, 2010.


How to cite this article:

M. J. Kumar, “Back to Basics: Why Every Student and Professor Should Ride a Bicycle on a University Campus?, IETE Technical Review,  Vol.30, pp.165-7, May-June 2013.

This article is also posted at the following website:




Posted in Education and Research | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

Face recognition by machines: Is it an effective surveillance tactic?

How to cite: M. Jagadesh Kumar, “Face recognition by machines:  Is it an effective surveillance tactic?” IETE Technical Review, Vol.30 (2), pp.93-94, March-April 2013.

Can you recall the last time when you tried to recognize a person’s face but failed? Sometimes we recognize the faces quickly and at other times we fail miserably. Among the several visual tasks that humans perform, face recognition is a very complex process since facial features of humans are not very distinct from each other.  How do humans recognize faces?  The right middle fusiform face area (FFA) of the brain is activated when we try to recognize faces [1]. This is an area of the brain located in the temporal lobe. In social interactions, face recognition is essential for us to know the identity, mood, sex and age of the person. It is now well recognized that humans possess highly evolved cognitive and neural mechanisms for face recognition. However, face recognition by humans based on recollection is not always correct.

A question that naturally comes to our mind is can machines be trained to recognize human faces? Human face recognition by machines has several commercial and law enforcement applications [2,3] and has been known since early 1960s. Advances in computer vision and improved sensor techniques have now led to a renewed interest in developing face recognition systems. Face recognition is much more secure since we cannot change our faces unlike a password or a magnetic swipe card which can be misused or passed on to others.

There are different methods of recognizing faces. Face recognition by machines is primarily an image analysis problem and is done either by verification or identification. In verification, you compare a face against a set of faces. In identification, a face is compared against each face in a data base. The reliability of a face recognition system depends on two critical requirements: (i) a large database of facial images and (ii) a testing procedure to evaluate the face recognition systems [4].

Three important criteria decide the effectiveness of face recognition process [5]: (1) The method used to represent the facial image to extract data, (2) Issues related to pose or facial orientation differences and (3) Whether the extracted data is embedded into a statistical shape analysis algorithm.

Faces are continuous three dimensional surfaces and we need to represent them using some effective means and convert into data. The easiest way to represent a face is to define land marks on the face such as eyes, nose and mouth and the geometrical distances and angles between them. The information obtained from land-mark representation is then transferred to a data base as a set of numbers. This method is not very effective if there are pose or illumination variations. In such a case one could use curve-based face representation where after locating a small landmark on the face, facial curves are extracted. This approach is useful in representing even difficult parts of the face such as forehead. However, most face recognition systems today use a complete surface based face representation.  One can use either an image or a mesh for surface representation of a face.

Before we quantify the facial shape using the numerical data extracted by any of the three approaches discussed above, we need to tackle the problem of facial orientation or pose. In one commonly used method, two face orientations are aligned and compared. Using a minimum of three corresponding point locations on both faces, differences in alignment are removed.  The other technique is to use an iterative method to minimize the pose differences.  One can even use data such as distances, angles and areas that are independent of facial orientations [5].

The extracted numerical data is now arranged into a series of numbers called vector descriptions and are embedded into a statistical facial space shape. Statistical shape analysis is required to estimate variability over similarly shaped faces. By calculating the distance and angle between two vector representations, we can then give a score for the similarity between two faces.

Face recognition by machines is no longer a scientific fiction. Face recognition systems have rapidly evolved in the last decade with recognition rates greater than 90 %. With the advent of 3D scanners, face recognition research has now shifted from 2D to 3D shape representation [6,7]. However, many challenges still remain to be tackled to make it robust to occlusions and multiple contexts. For example, expression, illumination and uncontrolled pose changes can result in a significant performance drop of the face recognition systems. As we age, our face changes in a non-linear way. We do not yet know how to tackle these problems effectively. Face recognition is still an evolving and open research area [8-10].

In India, research in the area of face recognition is primarily confined to few Indian Institutes of Technology and the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. While China and USA lead the face recognition research efforts, India does not find place in the top 10 countries contributing to this area. Face recognition systems are increasingly becoming important in India in view of the terrorist attacks and the rise in crime in cities particularly against women and children. We need to deploy face recognition systems at all sensitive and crowded places for conducting automated surveillance. This will help us in locating, tracking and profiling fugitives or persons who indulge in vandalism and riots. Use of face recognition systems in tandem with the data collected by the government agencies should enable us to identify any citizen of India in real time. This will not only deter those indulging in criminal activities but will also help the law enforcing authorities in quick dissemination of justice when crimes are committed.

There are of course concerns about privacy issues, such as including innocent citizens in the data bases and accumulating erroneous information about individuals [11]. Due to false positives, harmless people may be harassed if their face resembles that of suspects.  Face recognition can also be misused by commercial entities, for example, to decide which advertisement on the billboard will be of interest to you. Ethical questions too arise. Are we right in capturing facial images from public places such as markets, airports or railway stations and add to the data base without informing the individuals that their facial images are being captured? There is no clear answer. These are issues that one cannot overlook. Appropriate policies and legal provisions should be framed to prevent any private or government agencies from misusing such information to hound innocuous peace loving citizens.

When personal and public security becomes a national concern, we cannot sit back ignoring the threats. Deploying appropriate surveillance technology becomes inevitable. Without further delay, we need to significantly fund research activities in this area for building cost effective and efficient face recognition systems in India.


[1] N. Kanwisher and G. Yovel, “The fusiform face area: a cortical region specialized for the perception of faces”, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences, Vol.361, No.1476, pp.2109-2128, Dec 2006.

[2] R. Caldara, X. Y. Zhou and S. Miellet, “Putting Culture Under the ‘Spotlight’ Reveals Universal Information Use for Face Recognition”, PLOS ONE, Vol.5,  Article Number: e9708, March 2010.

[3] W. Zhao, R. Chellappa, P. J. Phillips and A. Rosenfeld, “Face recognition: A literature survey”, ACM Computing Surveys,  Vol.35, pp.399-459, December 2003.

[4] P. J. Phillips, H. Moon, S. A. Rizvi, P. J. Rauss, “The FERET evaluation methodology for face-recognition algorithms”, IEEE Transactions on Pattern Analysis and Machine Intelligence, Vol.22, pp.1090-1104, October 2000.

[5] D. Smeets, P.Claes, D. Vandermeulen and J.G. Clement, “Objective 3D face recognition: Evolution, approaches and challenges,” Forensic Science International, Vol.201, pp.125–132, 2010.

[6] M. De Marsico, M. Nappi, D. Riccio, and H. Wechsler, “Robust Face Recognition for Uncontrolled Pose and Illumination Changes,” IEEE Transactions on Systems, Man and Cybernetics: Systems, Vol.43, pp.149-163, January 2013.

[7] G. Sandbach, S. Zafeiriou, M. Pantic and L. Yin, “Static and dynamic 3D facial expression recognition: A comprehensive survey,” Image and Vision Computing, Vol.30, pp.683–697, 2012.

[8] K. Ricanek, and C. B. Boehnen, “Facial Analytics: From Big Data to Law Enforcement,” Computer, Vol.45, pp.95-97, 2012.

[9] X. Zhang and Y. Gao, “Face recognition across pose: A review,” Pattern Recognition, Vol.42, pp.2876-2896, 2009.

[10] S. Mitra and T. Acharya, “Gesture recognition: A survey,” IEEE Transactions on Systems, Man and Cybernetics, Part C – Applications and Reviews,  Vol.37, pp.311-324, 2007.

[11] A. Nodari, M. Vanetti and I. Gallo, “Digital privacy: Replacing pedestrians from Google Street View images,” 21st International Conference on Pattern Recognition (ICPR), 2012, pp.2889-2893.

Posted in Education and Research | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments